How to do a lot with a little

I’m a big fan of using one line instead of three. I love whittling away redundancies. A crisp paragraph is my jam.

I’m constantly reminded you can do a lot with a little. A five-minute movement practice this morning dropped me enough into myself that I could take on the work of supporting other writers.

It’s easy enough to shorten writing to reveal the meaning (see also: editing). But what happens in writing when you try to do a lot with a little?

You have a short story and want to turn it into a novel. So, you write more. A setting here, more dialogue there, maybe a new character. Soon you have 100 or 120 pages (a novel) and yeah, there’s a story (it’s the short story, expanded) but there’s something missing. You’re wary of writing more filler. So what do you do?

If you have a large canvas, you don’t need to fill it. With a novel, where there’s room to play, you can ask new questions about the existing story. Let’s focus on the main character/narrator as a way in.

Who is this character?
What does she look like?
Does she sound like everyone else in the story, or is her speech unique?
Does she have colleagues or, if the story is set at work, does she have friends outside work?
Who is listening to the narrator’s story? Should they believe her?
What motivates her?

Now that you know more about the character, can you see new directions for the old story? What would seem most real for her, or a logical next step?

A question can be simple: why is X doing Y? In asking little questions, you can add more depth and build a universe around a story.

A novel doesn’t need to be long; it does need to belong to your intention and what the reader needs. What can you stretch and what can you cut?

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